Nearly five years after launching The Brainzooming Group as a full-time strategy and innovation firm, we are honored by the Brainzooming blog readership growth. We appreciate those of you who have been diving in to the Brainzooming blog mid-stream to join us. Based on new readers asking about the Brainzooming backstory when I’m out speaking, and the fact there are now nearly eighteen hundred articles on the Brainzooming blog, an “in case you just joined us” recap highlighting all the different perspectives woven into the Brainzooming backstory seems helpful.


A Left Brain and Right Brain Start

I grew up enjoying school, including both left- brain (math) and right-brain (writing, art) subjects out in Western Kansas. Along the way, there was an opportunity to get involved in music, producing concerts, and working as a DJ. All of those find their way into what we do now.

By the time graduate school was finished, however, I still was not sure what I wanted to do.

Hearing Bill McDonald on a Kansas City radio talk show discuss his firm doing research for other companies sounded like my dream career. It was the epitome of small business life, and a few years there were like earning a second MBA degree focused on business analysis, writing, and the realities of living on a business shoestring.

Corporate Life at a Fortune 500 – From Marketing Analyst to Marketing VP

When the small business route was not helping make ends meet sufficiently, I landed a job at a Fortune 500 B2B services company right around the corner, serving for most of the time as Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Marketing Communications.

Starting corporate life as a marketing analyst, I was fortunate to rise quickly and gain exposure to a variety of marketing and business disciplines, thanks to another important strategic mentor. How often does a market research guy get to take on marketing communications, NASCAR sponsorships, strategic planning, conference production, and online marketing (with a healthy dose of music, art, and public speaking) – all at the same time? Rarely, I’d guess.

In the midst of this, our corporation tripled in size (to $10 billion) through acquisitions within just thirty months. I was deployed to help our new subsidiaries improve marketing and strategy while being told I couldn’t tell them what to do. This intriguing challenge led to blending all the creative thinking exercises, strategy templates, and innovation tools I had created and gathered over the years into what became the Brainzooming methodology.

While that was happening, I started blogging and tweeting to share the lessons learned with both my team (at least the smart ones who subscribed to the blog) and others outside the company.

Starting The Brainzooming Group

After several years of honing this rapid, question-based planning methodology called Brainzooming, I had a “couldn’t pass it up” opportunity to leave corporate life and make the move to growing and sharing the methodology full-time as The Brainzooming Group.

The Brainzooming Group now serving clients in business-to-business and business-to-consumer industries, including public, private, and not for profit organizations. We help them quickly and innovatively expand their marketplace views and strategic options. Our work can entail developing and implementing business strategy, marketing strategy, branding initiatives, revenue building efforts, marketing communications campaigns, and social media launches.

And through all of it, we are still blogging on strategy, creativity, innovation, and social media.

Thanks for joining the Brainzooming journey. We would love to work with you! Let us know what business opportunities and challenges you are trying to better address. Across our core and extended team, we have broad experience and well-tested tools to get your business, improving, growing, and moving forward quickly.

Working with us will make you feel you are Brainzooming – guaranteed! – Mike Brown

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You’ve heard the strategy. You’ve heard the strategy’s promise. Heck, you may be knee-deep or even waist-deep in the strategy.

What’s the strategy?

Giving away what you do for free in the hope of building an audience that will eventually pay you for what you do.

Strategic Thinking Question – When Does Free Become Getting Paid?

A lunch discussion the other day, however, was when and how do you start getting paid?


One intriguing answer to this strategic thinking question came via Jonathan Field as he addressed moving from free speaking to paid speaking. He tied the getting paid or speaking for free question to the size of the speaker’s “brand hand” relative to the event sponsor’s brand hand. In effect, whoever has the stronger brand sets the stage for how value (i.e., money) is divided, shared, and flows between the parties.

My answer to the strategic thinking question was you start getting paid when you are more willing and able to say, “No.”

When you’re in a position to turn down the people who expect things for free, you start setting boundaries about what’s free (i.e., maybe the first hour of consultation and listening is free before the meter starts running).

When you’re in a position to turn down the people who expect things for free, you address the “getting paid” conversation right away regarding how you’re delivering value with what you know and can share.

When you’re in a position to turn down the people who expect you to do things for far less than they are worth, you become much more explicit about what things cost. That applies to both what you charge and the costs to potential clients of not using someone as knowledgeable, proficient, and reliable as you.

What puts you in the position to say, “No,” to doing things for free?

It comes from addressing whatever weaknesses exist in your business.

That could mean, you have more than enough prospects or cash to sustain NOT doing business with the next potential client that comes along.

It might be you have reduced your overall business risk so you can take on the risk of saying NO.

It could also mean you really do have a better brand hand than the other party that wants you to do things for free or for much less than they are worth.

Or it may be something else.

Whatever it is that makes you say, “Yes, I’ll do that for free,” or give away things without ever having the conversation about free or paid, figure out what you need more of so you can say, “No,” to all the free work requests that are toxic for your success. – Mike Brown


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative thinking and ideas! For an organizational innovation success boost, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative plans to efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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Have you seen this commercial about bad decisions people make in horror movies? It reminds me of the typical strategic planning process, where people KNOW it’s not going to be productive, yet they approach a kickoff strategic planning meeting the same way every year and think things will be different.

10 Signs of a Strategic Planning Meeting Nightmare

If you’re invited to a strategic planning meeting to prepare for next year or you are doing the one inviting to this type of meeting, look at the materials sent to participants.

Want to know in advance if the strategic planning process is going to be a nightmare?


See how many of the descriptions below apply to what’s being sent to participants to prepare for the strategic planning process:

  1. The organizer isn’t a strategic thinker
  2. People or whole areas of the company that SHOULD be included are absent from the invite list
  3. A bunch of blank pages were sent out for people to complete in advance about past performance and future strategies
  4. Invitees are expected to come up with ideas, issues, strategies, and/or forecasts outside their expertise that they are supposed to fit into complex templates and forms
  5. The first time anyone will see what everyone else is working on is when they show up at the first strategic planning meeting
  6. The meeting is too internally focused, with insufficient time to address customers, competitors, markets, and important external factors
  7. There are lots of presentations, but no time for the group to work collaboratively
  8. Not enough time is set aside (within the meeting or across the whole planning process) to create a plan that meaningfully (and not just incrementally) improves things
  9. The person leading the strategic planning meeting has too much authority over the participants and will sway their perspectives
  10. It’s not clear how decisions are going to be made about priorities and what to do for next year

Do any of these sound familiar?

I’m not sure how many of these descriptors completely tip the scales toward ensuring your strategic planning process is going to be a nightmare.

If more than four or five of them describe your upcoming strategic planning meeting, however, you can pretty much rest assured it’s going to be a nightmare.

Want to change your strategic planning process for the better?

Contact us (info@brainzooming.com or 816-509-5320).

There’s still time (yes, there is still time) to make a course correction and turn your strategic planning meeting into something productive and beneficial.

Think of us as the running car in the commercial, and you can leave all your horrors to the horror movies!

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In reponse to a re-share for a Brainzooming post on the negative impact on the creative process of 29 phrases used in business, Ying Ying Shi reached out to expand on the idea, mentioning the starkly different impacts of periods and commas on the creative process.

Her ideas expanding on the creative process impact of  punctuation intrigued the heck out of me, and I asked her to share her thinking for Brainzooming readers, which we’re featuring today.

Ying Ying Shi is a multilingual international manager currently working at Clueda AG, a big data start-up. Previously, she was an M&A and strategy advisor to small, medium and transnational companies. She shares her experiences and musings on leadership, business and self-improvement at www.yingyingshi.com

Here’s Ying Ying!


Creative Process – How Using Periods Harms You by Ying Ying Shi

Ying-Ying-ShiIn a previous Brainzooming post on the creative process, Mike listed 29 phrases blocking innovative ideas. The phrases listed are necessary, but not sufficient conditions to block our creativity. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging limitations or existing problems; this is part of life and the improvement process. It is how you deal with these observations subsequently that has an irrepressible consequence: either halting you from solutions or opening new roads and views.

Language is our main tool of thought. When you speak out loud or write things down, you organize your thoughts and bestow them with power. Care is, however, needed. The words you speak cannot be retrieved; there is no ctrl+z. The words you think and write have an impact on your brain; there is no escape from that.

Psychology has been telling us that positive words have a positive effect on us and that we can be primed by these. Some psychological studies even point out to the fact that our genes are modified by positive words.

The other language constituent (besides words) that is often neglected is punctuation marks. These are essential in our communication. Had I used not punctuation until now in this post, you would have probably had a hard time understanding it.

Punctuation assigns a certain meaning to our expressions. Is this a question? Or perhaps just a wonderful example! You can know that this sentence hasn’t come to an end, unless you see a period.

As opposed to the mere grammatical function of punctuation marks, they can also trigger different thought channels. Periods define the end of our thought process, whereas commas or even ellipsis leave us open to different options and ideas.

The phrases on Mike’s creative process post were written without punctuation marks. It is up to you to decide which ones to use.

Compare the following (the original number of the phrase in parenthesis):

  • Initial observation (3): We don’t know how to do that
  • Period: We don’t know how to do that.
  • Comma: We don’t know how to do that, but we can hire an expert.
  • Initial observation (7): We’ve done something similar before
  • Period: We’ve done something similar before.
  • Comma: We’ve done something similar before, but the circumstances are different now, and we should try again.
  • Initial observation (13): I don’t know anything about that
  • Period: I don’t know anything about that.
  • Comma: I don’t know anything about that, and I am willing to take this challenge.
  • Initial observation (15): It’s too new for our market
  • Period: It’s too new for our market.
  • Comma: It’s too new for our market, and we know it’s a great opportunity.
  • Initial observation (29): We don’t have time for that
  • Period: We don’t have time for that.
  • Comma: We don’t have time for that, though we could prioritize it for the next period.

While the phrases with periods killed a creative thought process, blocking creativity, the commas have given way to limitless possibilities of which I have only written one.

Remember when you were disappointed or feeling down? You were most probably using a period. Maybe you thought: “I failed.” Yet it really should have been “I failed, I learned, and I moved forward.”

Try replacing periods more often in your thoughts, especially when you are identifying a problem.

While the correct punctuation usage might not yet modify your creative genius, it will certainly prevent your thoughts from being stopped by a period. With the right use of punctuation marks in life, your options can be infinite . . .

Ying Ying Shi


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.


Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative thinking and ideas! For an organizational innovation success boost, contact The Brainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative plans to efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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Data about your website is great.

Data patterns related to your website are even better.

Having big data to tell you how people react to different scenarios and situations on your website is the best yet.

When you are just launching a website, however, you may not have any data.

When that’s the case, either you can design something that fits a design aesthetic, or you can take what you know, answer sound strategic thinking questions, and design a website that makes strategic sense.

Strategic Thinking Questions – 3 Questions for New Website Design

We were looking at a new website the other day designed for the user to “scroll, scroll, and keep scrolling.” The nagging strategic issue was, “Why in the world would an audience member want to keep scrolling?”

To help the website creator through the strategic thinking to answer this question, we put together the strategic thinking exercise below. It lists each of the main pages of the website down the left column. Across the three columns to the right are three strategic thinking questions, all asked in the voice of the user:

  • “Why should I stay interested?”
  • “Why should I keep looking for more information?”
  • “Why should I buy something now?”

We used these three questions to quickly review the copy and design of the new website. Our objective was to have a solid, compelling answer to at least one of the three questions based on the first look at each of the website’s main pages.

Strategic Questions to Improve Design and Copy on a New Website


We used the three strategic thinking questions on a first pass review of the website. The questions helped us strengthen copy, make decisions on where to place key features, and changed perspectives about whether certain functionality made sense or not.

Our decisions weren’t data-driven because we don’t have any data on the website. The three strategic thinking questions definitely proved to be hard workers, however, for checking whether a brand new website offers compelling reasons for users to engage.

If you’re in a similar situation, grab a copy of this strategic thinking exercise and see how hard it can work for you! – Mike Brown

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“How strong is my organization’s social media strategy?”

9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy

Is your social media implementation working as well as it can? In less than 60 minutes with the new FREE Brainzooming ebook “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy,” you’ll have a precise answer to this question.

Any executive can make a thorough yet rapid evaluation of nine different dimensions of their social media strategies with these nine diagnostics. Download Your Free Copy of “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social  Strategy.”

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Several people in very different settings have asked for presentation tips on making last-minute speeches or moderating panel discussions at events.

My presentation tips in both situations was pretty comparable (although for panel discussions, I could actually point to a Brainzooming article specifically on the topic).


Presentation Tips – 4 Ideas for Successful, Last-Minute Speeches

If you have just a few moments to set the stage, get your point across, and get off stage, all with high impact, here are four ideas on how to make that happen:

1. If the speech topic feels off, redirect it to something that works better for you.

You want to be up on stage talking about something that you can relate to well, even if it isn’t exactly what the organizers planned. Look for how you can twist the topic more toward your strengths. If you deliver a great message, no one is going to remember you twisted the topic around a bit.

2. Start your speech with a personal story, and weave the story into a reinforcing pattern.

It’s clear we all love stories. But use a personal story at the start of your talk to its best advantage. Tie the opening story to your bigger message, but consider creating some suspense by not finishing the story. That creates the opportunity to finish or call back to the story at the end of your talk. That’s always a nice touch.

3. In between stories, make a couple of related, memorable points.

When you have only a few minutes to present or set the context for a panel, confine yourself to only a couple of points. Succinctly convey those points, ideally in a way that relates to the story you told to start the presentation.

4. Have a couple of go-to questions at the ready.

If there might be an opportunity for questions after your brief remarks, have a couple of questions that you either plant with audience members or ask and answer yourself. And a few conversation-rich questions are always helpful for a panel moderator.

If you’re a frequent speaker, what presentation tips would you offer for making short, last-minute speeches?

Mike Brown

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It is always fascinating how business professionals approach business networking.

This is particularly true when you get to see how business professionals set themselves apart through smart business networking techniques.

Business Networking Techniques that Created Results

Here are five recent business networking techniques that stood out:

1. When meeting someone new, call attention to your shared networks.

One way to highlight your common network is printing your shared list of LinkedIn connections. This simple business networking technique can move a conversation ahead in positive ways. At a recent meeting, the other individual handed me a hard copy list of shared LinkedIn connections; the list was surprisingly extensive. Scanning it, I discovered a childhood friend who SHOULD be a prospect for the other individual’s service, and I provided background on why he should follow up with my friend.

2. Don’t give up making a meeting happen, even if the introduction is months old.

Several people contacted me right before my wife, Cyndi, had surgery and my availability for non-essential meetings shrank dramatically. One individual followed up four months later before abandoning the possibility of making the meeting happen. His email and phone call combo instigated our in-person meeting months after the initial introduction occurred.


3. Follow up an informal first meeting with a second invitation right away.

At the closing Content Marketing World session, I sat next to someone new. We hit it off, had a wonderful conversation, and identified Pam Didner as a shared contact. Before parting company, he invited me to a dinner he was having with a client. Back at the hotel and planning to head to another event I had already paid to attend, he texted me with specifics on where they were headed. His invitation and follow up turned into a great dinner getting to know him better along with two of his clients.

4. Make your follow-up personal, not formulaic.

After the recent networking event prompting the “you have to keep up your blog current once you start it” post, one person I didn’t get to meet reached out via LinkedIn with more than the standard, “Join my network” message. He recounted leaving the event early to tend to a diabetic pet. Having had a diabetic pet ourselves, his personalized message created an instant connection.

5. Have a good memory (or good notes) of why you met originally met someone.

Right before Cyndi’s surgery, I did squeeze in a networking meeting with someone new instigated by friend and blog reader, Michael Irvin. With everything else on my mind, I remembered it was a great connection, but by the time we reconnected, I could not remember the specifics. The other individual came to our second meeting, however, with detail on why we were meeting again and what we hoped to accomplish. What a great boost to a productive second meeting.

What have you seen work with smart business networking techniques recently?

Mike Brown

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